New Clause 47 - Immigration Rules: entry to seek asylum and join family

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 4th November 2021.

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‘(1) Within 6 months of this Act being passed, under the power in section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament rules making provision for the admission of persons coming for the purpose of seeking asylum.

(2) These rules shall include provision for admitting persons who have a family member in the United Kingdom who—

(a) is ordinarily and lawfully resident in the United Kingdom; or

(b) has an outstanding claim for asylum in the United Kingdom.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a “family member” means a grandchild, child, parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt.’—

This new clause would require the Government to make provision within the Immigration Rules for people to be admitted to the UK for the purposes of seeking asylum where they have a family member in the UK.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I appreciate that the issue of safe routes has been explored fairly extensively already today, but I just want to make a couple more points. I think pretty much everyone on the Committee has agreed that we want to stop people from making dangerous journeys. Members would agree that part of that work involves tackling gangs through police work and so on. Fundamentally, where we have different points of view is over the role that disincentives have.

The Bill is all about disincentivising people from making journeys by putting them in the criminal justice system—breaching their human rights, breaching the refugee convention and using all manner of methods that would be regarded as completely and utterly inappropriate. Indeed, in the last debate we heard about the right to work, which exemplified that approach. The answer from the Minister, with all due respect, was totally devoid of any sort of evidence and reasoning. It is hugely frustrating. The so-called review is still ongoing three years on.

The final way to tackle these journeys is through safe alternatives. Again, I think that across the Committee there is a degree of agreement that safe routes do have a role to play. It is important that we have safe legal routes. In a sense, there is an element of justice about it, which is that we have to play our part in supporting those who suffer persecution; we cannot just leave it all to neighbouring countries, notwithstanding the fact that 80% or 90% of refugees are often in neighbouring countries—developing countries and so on.

I still do not get whether the Government totally appreciate the important role that such safe routes have in reducing unsafe journeys. To me, it is obviously significant. That is why EU countries, previously including the UK, have in place the Dublin rules. Those are far from perfect, but they recognise that if a person seeking asylum has family members or links in another member state, that is an appropriate place for the asylum case to be heard. Almost certainly, if there is no official route for an individual to use to come to the UK, whatever their ties are, an unofficial journey on an unofficial route will follow. That is why we find that many people in France who do consider, and do make, these dangerous journeys actually have relatives here in the UK. The immigration rules as they stand—I raised this in my intervention on the Minister earlier—are not fit for purpose. They include hugely demanding tests. Grants outside the rules are few and far between. I welcome the fact that the Government have indicated that they will take a look at that.

The end of the Dublin rules has almost certainly—definitely, in my view—exacerbated what is going on across the channel. Of course, the fact that there are no safe legal routes across the channel does not mean that there are not people attempting these dangerous journeys: other reasons and other ties exist that motivate people to do that. There is no doubt that providing some form of visa for those who require it would result in some reduction in those dangerous crossings.

As the situation stands, the Government are trying to secure agreements with other countries, but so far as we can see those are entirely one-sided and one-way agreements seeking only to secure the right to remove people from here. To secure deals, to encourage countries to get on board and to ensure a reduction in unsafe journeys, we also need to negotiate safe routes to here. That is why the Dubs scheme was so successful and important. It is important that we put in place something similar for the future, which is what the new clause is all about.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 3:45 pm, 4th November 2021

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is imperative that we think carefully about the issue. Expanding our family reunion policy as proposed by the new clause would significantly increase the number of people who would qualify to come here and to seek protection. Indeed, the new clause is global in scope, meaning that any asylum seeker in the world with extended family in the UK could qualify to claim asylum. That could easily run to the hundreds of thousands.

To give just one example of how that could have challenging consequences, foreign nationals already illegally present in the UK could potentially be incentivised to claim asylum to circumvent immigration rules in order to bring their family over. We need to ensure that our limited resources are focused on helping refugees who are in the UK to reunite and integrate with immediate pre-flight family. We have a proud record of helping those facing persecution, oppression and tyranny, and we stand by our moral and legal obligations to help innocent civilians fleeing cruelty from around the world, but we cannot help all the people displaced worldwide and who want to come to the UK.

Allowing extended family members to come to the UK for the purpose of claiming protection under new clause 47 might simply create further incentives for more adults and children to be encouraged—even forced—to leave their family and risk hazardous journeys to the UK in order to later sponsor qualifying extended family. That plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people and goes against the main intention of the Bill. We must do everything in our power to stop that dangerous trend. The new clause would also result in chain migration, where granting entry to each family member has the potential to bring in even greater numbers of their family members to claim protection under the rules. That is simply not sustainable.

We recognise, however, that families can become fragmented because of the nature of conflict and persecution, as well as the speed and manner in which those seeking protection are often forced to flee their own country. That is why the Government strongly support the principle of family unity. We already have a comprehensive framework for families to be reunited here safely. I will add, because this will be of interest to both Government and Opposition Members, that we are committed to reviewing the family refugee reunion rules, as we set out in the new plan for immigration. At all times, as the Committee would expect, we will be fully compliant with our international obligations.

Given that and the issues raised in Committee, everything will be taken into account when looking at the policy.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

First, that was not a fair interpretation of the new clause: it was certainly not advocating for an unlimited number of people to have access to that route. Nevertheless, it is surprising that we are expected to be encouraged about family reunion at a time when this very Bill is proposing to strip the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers and refugees of those family reunion rights. At the end of the day, the issue is one we will have to revisit on Report. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.